Nutrition for wound healing should be part of every recovery plan. The foods we eat are essential to the way our bodies function. This is especially true when we’re recovering from a wound, since your body is literally rebuilding itself from scratch.
A complete rebuild of muscle tissue, skin tissue, nerves, and blood vessels takes an enormous amount of resources. Imagine all the supplies you would need if your house burned down! Rebuilding would be a massive undertaking, and your body is no different.
To rebuild a house, construction trucks would be showing up at a building site with truckloads of resources for weeks. Your body rebuilds itself from the inside, but where do the materials come from?
The food you eat is where your body gets all its materials and energy. That’s why nutrition and wound healing are so closely interlinked.
Metaphors aside, what does your body actually do to heal a wound? How long does a wound take to heal? And when does nutrition for wound healing make a difference?
Let’s take a look at how wound healing works so you can understand how nutrition plays a role in the process.
Understanding how a wound heals
Wound healing goes through four distinct stages, and nutrition impacts each one differently. Healing time can be more complex, but generally, a wound is considered “chronic” if it hasn’t healed in 4 to 6 weeks.
For the first few minutes, your wound will be in the hemostasis phase, closing the wound with a scab. The hemostasis phase is most impacted by your nutrition prior to being wounded, since it needs to happen quickly.
After that comes the inflammation phase, where your body cleanses the wound by activating the immune response. Nutrition that supports the immune system is key for the 1-3 days your body is in this phase.
During the proliferative and remodeling phases, your body is carefully rebuilding the damaged tissue to make it just as strong as it was before the wound. During this phase, you should eat a lot of protein to give your body the materials it needs to repair.
Incorporating foods to support healing is wonderful, but when it comes to nutrition and wound healing, avoiding certain things can be just as important. Remember, your body is rebuilding tissue. And some foods or substances can be damaging to this process.
What to avoid while your wound is healing
When forming your plan around nutrition for wound healing, here’s what you need to avoid:
Look, it’s hard to quit. And if your wound keeps you bedridden, it can be even harder to deal with the boredom and cravings quitting would entail. Finding a healthy alternative is crucial to healing, though, for a number of reasons.
One of the most important? Smoking negatively impacts your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. This means no matter how carefully you integrate nutrition for wound healing, your body won’t be able to use what you’re consuming.
And that’s just one of the negative effects of smoking. Your cardiovascular health takes a hit, which makes it harder for your blood to deliver cells to the wound site. Your immune response is weaker, slowing healing and increasing the risk of your wound getting infected.
The list goes on and on. Smoking can have a huge negative impact on wound healing, so if you can’t quit entirely, try to cut back as much as possible.
Alcohol consumption can slow healing in a number of ways. It impairs the formation of collagen – the key building block of skin and muscle tissue. This slows healing because the body is literally unable to re-establish the strong tissue that was there before the wound.
Alcohol can also impact the ability of oxygen to travel through the body. Low oxygen levels in the body can make even normal bodily functions more difficult. When it comes to healing a wound, low oxygen can slow healing and make infection 2.6 times more likely to occur.
As you form your plan to incorporate nutrition for wound healing into your daily routine, consider removing or reducing your alcohol intake.
Foods high in preservatives, sugar, and added ingredients
When it comes to “junk food”, moderation is key. And when you’re putting together a wound healing diet, moderation might mean avoiding these foods altogether for a while. Foods high in preservatives, sugar, and added ingredients are often low in nutritional value.
This means that the nutrition for wound healing your body needs isn’t there, even though you’re snacking. Your body does use energy to digest food, and in foods with low nutritional value, that’s energy wasted.
While healing a wound, every bit of energy counts!
Instead, opt for snacks that are closer to whole foods. If you are eating a prepared food, check the label to make sure it has plenty of the nutrients your body needs to heal.
In some cases, taking nutritional supplements for wound healing is necessary, but in many cases, food can supply your body with the building blocks needed for healing.
Nutrients that help you heal
So what are these “building blocks” that we keep talking about? What even is a “nutrient”?
“Nutrient” is a catch-all term for anything that life needs to grow, heal, survive, and reproduce. The interaction between nutrition and wound healing is still being explored, because we still know comparatively little about the molecules that sustain life.
What we know for sure is that nutrition makes a huge difference in healing and health. For instance, medical nutrition therapy is enormously helpful in treating a number of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and, of course, wound healing.
The broadest way to approach nutrition for wound healing is simply to make sure you’re getting a well-rounded diet. And if you really want to focus on incorporating nutrients to support wound healing, there are a few you need more than anything.
Protein is present in every cell of your body, and it’s estimated that about 20% of the human body is protein. These large, sturdy molecules keep your body running.
They’re responsible for transporting nutrients through the body, keeping your hormones regulated, and healing wounds. Without protein, your body literally can’t heal wounds, making it non-negotiable as part of nutrition for wound healing.
One of the most common proteins in the body is collagen. What is collagen? It’s a specific kind of protein that forms the basis for most tissues in the body. Collagen is unique in that it contains 8 of the 9 essential amino acids.
Amino acids are small molecules that work together in the body to form protein. Essential amino acids are the only ones your body can’t make for itself. You can consume collagen through animal proteins like meats and fish, making this powerful protein an ideal part of nutrition for wound healing.
Zinc is a chemical element, one of the few substances on earth that can’t be chemically broken down further. In the body, zinc is considered a “trace mineral”, meaning your body only needs a little of it. Despite this, zinc deficiency is a major problem worldwide.
When it comes to zinc’s role in nutrition for wound healing, simply addressing an underlying zinc deficiency can positively impact healing.
Zinc plays a crucial role in both collagen formation and immune system function. This means when you don’t have enough zinc, your body can’t form new tissue or avoid infection as well.
Zinc is one of the more common supplements for wound healing, but before you take any supplement, remember to consult with your healthcare team. If you’re taking any medications, your healthcare team will be able to help you prevent any possible negative interactions.
Zinc’s powerful positive influence on wound healing is most pronounced when it’s taken in combination with protein and vitamin C. In one study, this combination reduced the size of pressure ulcers by as much as 57%.
Vitamin C is a key part of nutrition for wound healing, and the role of vitamin C in wound healing has been well-documented for centuries.
Sailors on long voyages in the 18th century discovered they needed to bring along limes or lemons to ward off scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. Scurvy caused, among many other unpleasant symptoms, recent wounds to reopen and start bleeding again.
The body doesn’t make vitamin C on its own, but it’s absolutely essential for wound healing and overall health. Vitamin C is a key part of your body’s ability to produce and process collagen.
Collagen wound healing is much less effective without vitamin C, and when paired with zinc, your immune system gets a superboost.
Much like vitamin C, vitamin A is key in collagen synthesis. Vitamin A is important at all stages of wound healing, since one of its main functions in the body is to stimulate wound healing. This is because vitamin A encourages the growth of cells that contain connective tissue and form blood vessels.
When considering vitamin A as part of nutrition for wound healing, it’s important to note that all of the evidence supporting vitamin A supplements is theoretical. There are very, very few clinical trials observing the impact of vitamin A supplements.
When including vitamin A as one of your supplements for wound healing, you should speak with a healthcare professional first. You’ll also want to make sure it’s part of a larger plan of nutrition for wound healing.
Like all vitamins, vitamin A works best as part of a team of nutrients!
Nutritional supplements for wound healing
We can’t talk about nutrition and wound healing without talking about wound healing supplements. What are they? Do you need them? How do you choose the right ones?
Wound healing supplement blends include several of the necessary nutrients for wound healing, but it’s important to check labels. Remember, your body uses energy to process food, and that includes oral supplements.
Supplements that aren’t high quality or that contain nutrients already difficult for your body to process (like protein) use valuable energy without much return. This is one of the reasons food is the best way to incorporate nutrition for wound healing into your recovery.
Food contains calories and micronutrients that your body needs just as much as the vitamins in the supplement.
Some nutrients, like protein, can be tough to get enough of, though, especially for people who have a low appetite or other difficulties eating. In these cases, nutrition for wound healing should absolutely include supplements, but the right ones.
Look for nutritional supplements for wound healing that come from reputable sources, are easy to digest, and are medical-grade. These supplements fit right into any nutrition for wound healing plan, especially when they’re part of an already carefully considered diet.
Using nutrition for wound healing
Bottom line, if you’re considering nutrition for wound healing, you’re already a step ahead.
Supporting your body’s natural healing processes is one of the most important things you can do to care for yourself. This means incorporating healthy foods and taking high-quality supplements for wound healing when needed.
Fresh fruits and vegetables will ensure you have plenty of vitamin C and vitamin A in your diet, while beans and legumes are high in zinc. For protein, you have plenty of options, especially when it comes to collagen protein.
Hydrolyzed collagen supplements are an excellent way to get all the protein your body needs while being ultra-digestible, so no energy is wasted.
In the end, wounds take time to heal, and the things that slow them can be complex. But the relationship between nutrition and wound healing is indisputable, so you can start healing quicker just by putting more nutrients on your plate.